We've recently opined that, on Twitter, the quality of your followers is more important than the quantity. In a similar vein, it's certainly arguable that just because someone has thousands (or even tens of thousands) of followers doesn't mean they are necessarily more "intelligent," "wise" or "witty" than someone with only a few hundred followers.
In fact, more often than not, people are able to amass thousands of followers not because they regularly make particularly intelligent observations, but because they spend an enormous amount of time clicking the "follow" button for as many people as possible. The hope is that the people they follow will reciprocate and "follow" them back -- thereby boosting the number of their own followers. It's almost like a Ponzi scheme - click "follow" as much as possible, which increases the number of your own followers, and so on.
Truth is, nobody can follow the Tweets of thousands of people a day. You'd need an army of assistants to keep track - let alone to respond to - so many Tweets each day (assuming this was even a worthwhile endeavor). This only reinforces the point that many people follow other people not because they are interested in what they have to say, but solely because they are seeking reciprocity to boost their own following (and ego?).
What really drove home this point today for me was when I decided to follow a particular individual with an interesting Twitter name, and surprise surprise, they decided to reciprocate and follow me back. But when I received the email confirmation of their reciprocity, I noticed something shocking that had earlier escaped me - this individual had 674 followers even though they had posted exactly zero updates. Yes, that's right - zero updates - they hadn't contributed a single "tweet" and still had 674 followers. How? You guessed it - because they were following 1729 people. In other words, all of their followers were obtained due to reciprocity. Wow!
Which brings me to the Twitter ratio...
As explained on the Twitter ratio website, the Twitter ratio is calculated by dividing the number of your followers by the number of your "friends" (i.e., the number of people you follow). So, for example, if 200 people are following you, and you are following 100 people, your Twitter ratio is 200/100, or 2.0.
I think people should start using the Twitter ratio (and not the aggregate number of followers) to identify thought leaders (a/k/a "gurus") on Twitter. Here's the logic: if you can get alot of people to follow you without having to first follow them, it proves people are attracted to the wisdom of your Tweets and choose to follow you because they want to hear what you have to say on an ongoing basis. That is, if you can continually attract more followers without a corresponding increase in the number of people you follow, the numerator in your ratio will rise faster than the denominator. Which demonstrates that a high Twitter ratio signals high quality tweets worthy of being followed.
The Twitter ratio website (which provides tools to measure your Twitter ratio), offers the following guidelines (in italics - with my comments added):
- A ratio of less than 1.0 indicates that you are seeking knowledge (and Twitter Friends), but not getting much Twitter Love in return. In other words, people are not so impressed with your Tweets. Exhibit A: the individual mentioned above following 1729 people but having only 674 followers. That's a Twitter ratio of 0.38 (674/1729) - and even that's overly generous since this person has never contributed a single tweet.
- A ratio of around 1.0 means you are respected among your peers. Many people think that a ratio of around 1.0 is the best - you're listening and being listened to. Actually, I wouldn't go so far - if someone has 8,645 followers, and is following 8,645 people, I wouldn't call that person well-respected. They have may achieved their high number of followers primarily through reciprocity. But if someone is following 461 people and has 461 people following them, then there's a good chance there's some mutual respect going on.
- A ratio of 2.0 or above shows that you are a popular person and people want to hear what you have to say. You might be a thought leader in your community. This sounds accurate. Believe it or not, it's not easy to keep your Twitter ratio above 2.0 without quality tweets. Thus, if you can manage to keep your Twitter ratio above 2.0, then that's a good sign your contributions are being valued by others. As an example, take Melanie Notkin of Savvy Auntie fame: she is following 2,739 people while 9,878 people are following her for a Twitter ratio of 3.6. And in fact, Melanie's rise from obscurity to celebrity status using Twitter and other social media has been fascinating to follow (I think Harvard should write her up as a case study). Interestingly, President Barack Obama doesn't quite make the cut. He is following 774,879 people while 1,447,001 are following him. That's a Twitter ratio of only 1.87. Maybe the President should appoint a "Twitter Czar" to improve the quality of his tweets.
- A ratio of 10 or higher indicates that you're either a Rock Star in your field or you are an elitist and you cannot be bothered by Twitter's mindless chatter. You like to hear yourself talk. Probably the most extreme example of an absurdly high Twitter ratio is Ashton Kutcher - he is following only 169 people while 2,247,676 people are following him. That's the population of a city! Run for mayor of Twitterville, Ashton! (note: some have argued that a Twitter ratio of 13,300 signals Kutcher's arrogance - i.e., he doesn't care what anyone else has to say. I beg to differ - following 169 people a day is no easy task - Ashton has probably limited his circle to those whose insights he values. And for some reason (it escapes me), a HUGE number of people want to hear what Ashton has to say.
Which brings me to my modest proposal: Twitter should start displaying Twitter ratios in people's profiles. For those of us interested in using Twitter to identify bright people with smart things to say (rather than simply boosting our egos), displaying the Twitter ratio will help us separate the wheat from the chaff, and identify thought leaders worth following.
Indeed, what's great about the Twitter ratio is that it can't be manipulated. In contrast to the number of followers, you can't just raise your Twitter ratio by clicking "follow" on a huge number of people. That will drive down your ratio. Rather, the only way to obtain and maintain a high Twitter ratio is to publish intelligent observations that attract followers. Only by attracting followers with great content can you boost your Twitter ratio.
Bet you're wondering - what's my Twitter ratio? Check out http://twitter.com/joshfruchter. I have 274 followers, and am following 130 people, for a Twitter ratio of 2.11 (take that, President Obama!).
I'll end by inviting readers to follow me - but only if you are interested in what I have to say ; - )